Thursday, October 28, 2010

Carpe Kids Books -- and a blanket

As a kid, I escaped into the pages of a book all the time. I read morning, noon and night – under my covers with a couple of cats curled up at my feet, tucked under a big blanket in the old recliner that had been retired to the corner of my bedroom, or in front of the fireplace on cold, winter evenings while Dad watched football games. I learned the simple joy of a hot cup of tea at an early age, so would curl up with a steaming mug, no matter what the weather, and let the stories take me away.

On Huffington Post the other day, I saw an article about the top 10 kids’ books. It inspired me to start jotting down favorite titles I remembered from my own past. Naturally, I ended up with 10 after only a few minutes – the titles flew from my head faster than I thought I would remember them. So many of what I’d call “favorites” didn’t make the list. I pretty much took the first 10 titles I remembered.

Now, I want to seek out the ones I don’t still have on my bookshelf and read them all over again. It is the right time of year for a snuggle under a blanket, a hot cup of something, and a good book!
In no particular order, here are favs from my younger years:

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper – a story of the battle between good and evil, mystical forces and magical characters set in England (for you anglophiles out there) – where children speak with proper English and eat bread a cheese from a paper wrapper when they are out on an adventure. Dark and spooky – should be read by kids and adults alike with a big dog at your feet or at least a flashlight within reach!

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L’Engle – Such a classic, I probably don’t need to say any more. My mother gave me this book and I will forever wish to find a tesseract of my own.

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls – A boy and his dogs…I remember being so moved by this story, brought to tears by Rawls’ characters and their lives. I think it was my first experience with a piece of literature that wiggled its way deep into my heart and made me sad down to my bones for not only the boy, but for how his story could mirror real life events. Definitely have the Kleenex nearby for this one.

Short stories of Edgar Allen Poe – I don’t remember the specific anthology I had, but I do have a very vivid memory of being scared witless – on a bright, sunny, summer afternoon – by Poe’s Telltale Heart. The house was quiet, and even though the sun was high, I swear I thought I could hear that thump-thump in the walls around my own bedroom! Ack!!

My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara – (Don’t mistake this for the mediocre movie recently produced or any tag-along adaptations that may have come out after the movie was made. Nothing could replace Mary O’Hara’s original!) A girl and her horse. And the copy I read had belonged to my mom when she was a girl. Nuf said.

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur Clark – Not a “kids’ book” per se…but I read it when I was probably 11 or 12. My first true encounter with science fiction and I was enthralled! Also came from Mom’s bookshelf.

Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien – A survival story that I read when the concept of a nuclear war was high on everyone’s mind. A movie (The Day After) came out around this time, too, and the idea of how to either survive – or better yet, ensure death quickly by driving directly toward a target – was a strange obsession for me. As a result, this book was quite a read. (Side note: It also was the first time I encountered specific fears in a character about violence toward girls or women. Gleaning a first understanding of the threat of rape was quite a realization – helping to make this book a memorable one, I’m sure.)

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien – Weird. I didn’t realize this was by the same author as Z for Zachariah, but thinking about the stories, it kind of makes sense. Another survival story – but this one about a mouse who enlists the help of rats from a scientific laboratory to save her children. A mousie-sized roller coaster ride of adventure!

Incident at Hawk’s Hill by Alan Eckert – Speaking of adventure and survival stories…this one I still have on my shelf somewhere in my house. A young pioneer boy wanders away from his homestead on the prairie, to be found and kept alive by a badger. Sounds weird…but trust me – Mr. Eckert’s style and attention to detail make this a fascinating, believable story.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie – Actually, I read bunches and stacks of Agatha Christie books along with my friends when I was probably between 10 and 15 years old. No kids in any of those books, but I was (and still am) a sucker for a good mystery – especially if it involved a group of people (preferably from England) stuck in a huge, old house together (preferably in England) while a storm raged or a flood ravaged or some other natural disaster kept them all trapped together. Until (dum da dum dum….) someone turns up DEAD! (A little chill just ran down my spine!) I particularly loved Hercule Poirot stories…I think because I liked to say his name.

So that’s my ten – not “Top 10” but the first 10 titles that came to mind when I remembered books I loved from when I was a kid. Keep in mind – there wasn’t really a genre or section of the bookstore for YA titles back in the late 70s or early 80s. Which is probably why I spend so much time in those sections today!

What are some titles you remember loving? Or hating?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Talking with N. H. Senzai, Author of SHOOTING KABUL

I recently found Shooting Kabul on the new release shelf at my local library. The cover was beautiful and the title intrigued me – especially in the children’s area of the library. The jacket flap promised a story of a young boy’s family, their flight from the Taliban, their journey as newcomers to the US, and the unfolding of the events of 9-11. Pretty heavy stuff for a kids’ book.

It proved to be a jewel of a story, grabbing me with its cultural details and the emotion and true voice of Fadi as he tries to process the family tragedy as well as the international one. N. H. Senzai was nice enough to grant me an interview about this, her first novel.

CARPE kEYBOARD:  Your book, Shooting Kabul, illustrates a rich combination of the cultures of Afghanistan and the US from a young boy’s point of view. I was especially struck by the things most Americans would take for granted – like Fadi’s view point of a toy store.  And the description of the flight from the Taliban in the first 2 chapters is nerve wracking! I felt like I was running for the truck right along with the family! What kind of research did you do research to get the details of his experience down so vividly?

N.H. Senzai:  I do extensive research before and during  the writing process. For SHOOTING KABUL my goal was to be as accurate as possible when depicting Afghan culture and the landscape of the country before fleshing out the novel. In chapter two, the family’s flight from Afghanistan, takes place in a Jalalabad. Although I have never been there, I spoke to my Afghan in-laws, read up on the city, saw pictures, maps and travel guides to make sure I had the feel and flavor of the area for authenticity. Much of the latter part of the book takes place in Fremont, California, which is where I’m from, so I just took in the scenes from everyday life.

You include the events of 9/11 as a pivotal turning point for your characters. Fadi feels the fallout in the form of bullying at his school – such a huge issue today in the news lately -- and sees the impact in the adults in his community, as well. What do you hope your readers will learn from seeing these events from Fadi’s perspective?

For thousands of years, Afghanistan has been a battle­ground for outsiders. Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan came with their armies, as did the British and the Soviets. All attempted to conquer and occupy, yet failed. There are lessons to be learned as the United States currently contemplates its role in this war-torn country. Afghanistan came into the global spotlight again, post 9/11, and thus that day is a pivotal moment for my characters. My hope is that the readers of SHOOTING KABUL take away one critical thing – that after having walked in Fadi’s shoes they realize that although people from different parts of the world may look, speak or even act differently, their core values are the same – they want security, access to education, healthcare, a happy, stable family life and a hope for a positive future.  My hope is that readers  realize that Fadi and his family are similar to their own; that their hopes, dreams and desires mirror theirs.
You also included rather intimate details of Muslim faith traditions, such as the visits to the mosque and Fadi’s discussions about his faith with his family. Your scenes that hinged on faith were smoothly integrated as a meaningful, natural part of the story, yet were obviously illustrations of a much different “side” of Muslim faith than we typically see portrayed in the media lately. Were you intentionally sending a message about the peacefulness of Islam? Do you hope your story will open minds in America and elsewhere about this faith?

My greatest challenge in writing the book was to make sure I didn’t resort to clichĂ©’s and sensationalism when telling Fadi’s story – I wanted to write an accurate, truthful portrayal of Afghan culture, world politics and the religion of Islam in a thoughtful, nuanced and way.  Islam has been present in the United States since Muslims arrived as slaves from Africa, and many of the founding fathers owned a Quran, including Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, and they established the freedom of religion.  Islam has had the opportunity to flourish in the US, but unfortunately, in a post 9/11 environment, there has been tremendous backlash against the Muslim community; but looking back historically, many groups, such as the Catholics, Jews and others have also faced challenges as they established their place in the American landscape. I believe we are at a very challenging, but hopeful time as Americans learn more about Islam and the Muslim people. I hope that SK lends a voice to the debate.

Here is a question I ask a lot of authors:  I’ve recently learned (the hard way!) that the editing process is where a huge part of the art of writing happens. I think some writers would argue the magic is in the act of writing the first draft. What do you think?

I would argue that both, art & magic, happen at all times, during the writing of the first draft, and then in the follow up revision process.  For me, the first draft is when the essence of the story lands on the page, its soul (the magic) and skeleton (the art).  The editing process is adding layers of tissue and skin to refine, solidify and strengthen the story. Then, once your manuscript is acquired, you go through another round of revisions with your editor, and they too lend an element of  art & a hint of magic to the story for final publication.

What actions did you take to improve your writing skills? Do you have a degree in creative writing? Do you belong to a critique group? What would you recommend as a way for budding authors to improve their skills?

I graduated college with a degree in accounting and marketing – I think I took all of two English classes at U.C. Berkeley. I still joke that I don’t know what a dangling participle is! My strength as a writer is the creative process – coming up with the story and plotting it out. My weakness is grammar and the “English”. So when I got serious about writing, the first thing I did was to join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and found a critique group. My two partners were instrumental is helping me strengthen my writing skills, enabling me to bring my ideas to life. So I would recommend this to all writers – join a community of writers, either on-line or in person, and sharing your work.

When do you carpe your keyboard? What are your writing habits?

I don’t have a set schedule for writing, and since I have a day job and a family, I tend to write in the evenings, late into the night or early mornings. For me, I write straight into my computer, and since I do a lot of research, Google is always open, waiting for research project to commence…

What’s your next project?
I am currently in the process of working on a few different ideas for my next book. When I know more, I’ll be sure to share it!

Thanks so much for sharing your time and thoughts with Carpe Keyboard, Ms. Senzai! Good luck with sales, your next work, and the writer's life. I'll look forward to seeing your name (and a new title) on a shelf at my local bookstore again soon.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Storms of story ideas from 8 year olds… and the best Thank You notes ever.

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to teach short writing workshops with four different classes of second graders at my son’s elementary school. Think of it is a pre-published author visit. (That’s how I thought of it!)

There were a couple of reasons I volunteered my time to do this. First, I wanted to get my foot in the proverbial door. I wanted to try out some ideas I had for elementary classroom presentations and see if they worked. I wanted to get experience in front of a room full of 8 year olds and see if I could begin building presentations and maybe even references for a day when I can do a “real” author visit. Secondly, I love to teach. I teach adults for a living and have spent time in classrooms as a Junior Achievement volunteer teacher. This felt like the next obvious step – turn my love of writing into a volunteer opportunity where I could help kids see how fun writing can be.

Can I just tell you what a hoot this was? I visited the four classrooms over two days – and spent an hour with each group. In each class, there were about 22 to 24 kids – all of whom were involved and interested and (dare I hope) excited to talk about stories. It was like being on stage in front of a captive audience and being allowed to talk for an hour about one of my most favorite things in the world: building stories.

I asked the kids at one point if they could come up with “juicy words” to replace more basic words in sentences. (Instead of “dog” we could say….) I still giggle when I think of the things they suggested. They’d start out tentatively. Maybe one or two kids raising their hand, confident they knew what I was asking for. Once a few examples were thrown out, the room would literally hum with ideas. I couldn’t even hear them all – but I could see the words filling their eyes, slopping around in their heads, and starting to leak out of their ears.

A few of the ideas for juicy words to replace “dog” were: huge (ok…a start), puppy (predictable), bulldog (getting more specific), Irish Setter (great image!), and….wait for it…..lawnmower (wha?? Weird, but imaginative).

Who else but a group of kids would hear the word dog and come up with literally dozens of different words they could use instead – even thinking way outside the box and using completely different nouns! Imagine… perhaps a boring story idea about a generic dog becomes some space age sci-fi tale about a lawnmower!

My workshop eventually had them work in groups to build “story webs” – a way of listing story ideas with a little bit of structure, but still allowing the ideas to storm their way into existence. Very few rules, lots of crayons and markers, multiple kids writing on their project at a time….no idea was wrong or not useful. Everyone got to add to the collective story ideas. And everyone did! I stood back and watched as they huddled over the big pieces of blank paper. I got to smile at them, lend an encouraging word here or there (lots of “LOVE it!” and “Ooooo! What a GREAT idea!”). Watching them get excited about characters and what might happen to them was….well…it may sound cheesey, but it was just plain fun.

I think all of us so-called writers could learn something from these kids about ideas and letting them flow. Letting them grow organically into stories. Exploring not only unexpected words, but unexpected events, settings, plots, and conflicts.

Over the following few weeks, I received thick bundles from each of the four teachers. Collections of thank you notes, written and illustrated as only kids can. Here are a few examples, just to spread some smiles.

If you haven’t volunteered in your local school or offered your time and talent to the kids in your community, think about it. In this age of computer games, Wii consoles, reality TV and fast-paced everything…you really can help kids learn that writing and storytelling is fun. And in the process, maybe (just maybe!) you’ll help some girl believe that she can write stories others will want to read. Or maybe inspire some boy to dabble with language in a way he never imagined before. Good stuff.

 (Note that this child thinks I ROCK!)

PS: Next month, I'm lined up to work with 8th graders. A whole new experience, I'm sure! No crayons there...but I hope more storms of story ideas.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Freytag and Tomatoes…Growing a Plot

This week, I spent one whole day sitting in a darkened room, listening to human resources reps from my new employer tell us everything we wanted to know and more about working for them. To all outward appearances, I was taking diligent notes throughout. Reality: I was plotting a new book idea in my extra-special, corporate logo-ed pad of paper. I’d pause once in a while to acknowledge a flashback to high school – specifically to a day when I was called out in Pre-Calc class for being more interested in staring at the patterns of snowflakes falling outside the frosty window than I was in the variables on the blackboard. Luckily, the HR representative wasn’t nearly as observant as the pre-calc/football coach Mr. Seaman. (Yes…giggle at his name. We all did.)
The next day, I found myself thinking of all sorts of events – plot points, really – that could happen in this new story. But it was all a jumble. No order, no timeline – just a stream-of-consciousness kind of collection of plot ideas. So, I figured I had enough floating around in my brain, I’d better get some of it down somehow or I would forget these Great American Novel ideas.
Result: I swiped my daughter’s markers and a stack of huge pieces of drawing paper.

Was I regressing to elementary school art class? Was I planning to draw my own graphic novel? No… I was rediscovering Freytag’s pyramid. Heard of it? Even if you don’t remember Freytag’s name, you probably remember diagramming stories in school, and most of those activities were based on good ol’ Freytag’s story analysis.
Freytag is the dude who said that all stories should have a beginning (exposition, inciting incident), rising action, a climax, falling action, and a resolution. Look it up – a search on Google will show you literally dozens of examples of the diagram and the terminology that goes with it.
Here’s the cool thing: it works. Sometimes the “pyramid” ends up more like a bell-curve. Sometimes it peaks with multiple climaxes – but there is always one that creates the highest peak on the chart. I took a novel writing class recently where we created not only plot arcs (aka Freytag’s you-know-what) for a novel, but we compared them to character arcs as well. It was a hugely important exercise for my growth as a writer. If you haven’t diagrammed a story lately – plotted it out on an arc or pyramid – I strongly suggest you do! Pick your favorite adult or YA novel you’ve read recently. Pick the middle grade book you’re reading with your kids… Any well-written story will do, although you can find great examples of the pyramid for most Shakespeare plays online. See what you discover about story structure and organizing your own plot.
After about 30 minutes of playing around with my huge drawing pad and blue, green, red and purple markers, I produced a lovely example – and exposed plot holes and character questions along the way.  (Freytag would be so proud!) I’ve got a long way to go, but it is exciting to have this poster to hang on my office wall to inspire and motivate me. Now I can see that there really is a story hidden in the weird idea that fell into my lap during that never-ending meeting. I can see the basics: where the story can begin, what the major climax might be, and how it can resolve. Will it end up that way? Most likely not. I know my own writing style well enough by now to realize that I’ll made a gazillion changes before it is all said and done.
But it is a beginning. It is like planting a seed and checking the garden one morning to find a tiny, green tomato sprout sticking out of the dirt. The sprout will have its own arc (growing over time, producing flowers, then tiny green fruit, ripening tomatoes for picking, dying back, buried in the compost pile). Weird how that parallels the growth of a good story, isn’t it?
So Freytag and tomatoes. Wonder if he had a garden?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Writer, Know Thy Audience.

I attended a short conference sponsored by a local chapter of a writing organization yesterday. A friend spoke about crafting scenes and an agent from New York spoke, telling us details about the state of the children’s publishing industry today. Both of these speakers were prepared, knew their audience, and spoke with confidence, providing details the group attending could use. Listening to them was a pleasure. I even took notes.

However…I have to say, the third speaker was not so prepared. She was a writer of “high sensuality” fiction (translate: R- to X-rated stories).

So, let me back up. The conference was sponsored by a childrens writers’ organization. We write for children. You know…picture books, middle grade stories. Our heroes are Beverly Cleary, Jacqueline Woodson, and John Green. We love Eric Carle and dream of having something as successful as the Grouchy Ladybug in our collective futures. Most of us would readily admit to being a bit swoony if we ever got the chance to meet Michael Grant or listen to Margaret Peterson Haddix talk about how her book was chosen for Oprah’s kids’ book club.

I sat there – probably looking more than a little perturbed – as this speaker talked about the importance of pen names to protect your privacy. (This is not something those of us who write for the 8 to 12 year old set usually worry about, but she told us writers need them so the prisoners don’t try to find you. Ahem.) Other attendees at my table squirmed uncomfortably as she used the term “bitch-slap” followed by a few “it sucks” and strangely inappropriate comments about sexual research for her work. Not that childrens writers are easily offended or shocked. But c'mon... Seriously? Protection from the prisoners?!?

I looked at my watch. I sipped cold coffee, fiddled with my pen, then looked at my watch again. I started to feel a little embarrassed for the speaker when her continued attempt at jokes continued to fall on the floor like a cherry red tube of lipstick at a Baptist tent revival.

But then, being me, I found myself wondering if there was a hidden lesson in this – the most painful hour of my Saturday. And here is what I came up with: Know your audience. It has a corollary: Don’t take advantage of your audience. Both of which apply equally to speakers and writers.

We make a promise to our readers – especially as our careers progress and we establish what this speaker referred to as our “author brand.” The promise children’s book writers make involves telling the best story we can that will honor our audience’s expectations, love of story, level of reading skill and imagination.

How do you get to know your audience? In my case, I read to my kids often. I shop for books with them and take them to the library. We talk about the books we all choose – why we choose them, why we like them, and why we sometimes decide to stop reading them before we finish.

I try to pay attention to the kids’ conversations that go on in my house and yard. I talk to my kids’ friends about the stories they like. Recently, I joined a book club where I am definitely in the minority – there are about 6 kids and only 3 adults in the club. It is a great opportunity to listen to how kids dissect and digest stories, not to mention how they choose a book to read.

And here is a biggie: I read kids lit. A LOT. I pack in 2 or 3 middle grade or YA novels just about every week. I choose the books I hear about online or those that have long waiting lists at the library. I read books by authors I know are selling well in the bookstores. These are the people who get it. They have made a promise, and the audience is basking in it. And along with reading kids books, I keep tabs on a number of online communities of readers and writers of my genre.

So, I’m off to dive into another novel now, to try to firm up what I know about my audience. I sure don’t want my books to end up dropped on the floor like… well, like the Saturday afternoon speaker’s jokes.  

Monday, October 4, 2010

Love Bites. Bella Swan vs. Rose Hathaway. (Or How to Write a Heroine.)

I have a confession. I feel like I should be holding a styrofoam cup of bad coffee, looking out at a ragged circle of strangers, testing the waters for a new type of 12-step program.

My name is Karen, and I read all 4 Twilight books. And enjoyed them. Even though somewhere in my writerly brain I realized they were…well…pretty much mediocre. (But let’s face it – for those of us trying to break into the writing biz, we’d love to figure out what Stephanie Meyers did to achieve such success!)

But the story….Ah! The Story! What could be better than the forbidden love between “everygirl” and her undead dreamboat? And who could resist a man (oops, vampire) who avoids all types of…well…penetration? No human blood. No sex. Hm. How fascinating frustrating.

As a hopeful writer, the biggest thing I learned from reading about Bella and her erstwhile love story was how not to write a teenage girl/young woman heroine. Bella was not the kind of character I hope to write about. I want my young women to have power. Bella did not. I want my young women to act on their own. Bella did not. I want my young women to live feisty, interesting, smart and touching stories. Bella…well… you get the idea.

So you can imagine my hesitation when I first saw Richelle Mead’s series, Vampire Academy. The covers feature beautiful young women with flirty looks in their faces – including glistening lips and, by book five, the addition of a brooding young man with a slight grin and a five o’clock shadow. Another Bella? And her scruffy Edward? I think I actually groaned when I saw this set of books on the shelf at Borders for the first time.

But my curiosity got the best of me. Would this flirty girl with the pouting lips be different? And thanks to Ms. Mead’s storytelling, the answer is a resounding YES.

Characters need depth. Any creative writing class will tell you this fundamental truth. They need to step off of the page, stride through your room and take up space. They should speak and act with roundness and depth. They should have strengths and weaknesses. They should screw up, and learn from their mistakes. Just like the rest of us.

It’s enough to make some of us writers throw down our pens and stomp one foot in a fit of childish tantrum. How to accomplish all of this? How to create a whole person?

Don’t look to Bella Swan as a character study. Instead, turn to Rose Hathaway. Drop Edward like a rock. Instead, focus on Dimitri Belikov.

Mead writes Rose into life with a refreshing attitude. Rose is a troublemaker. She is a risk-taker who is in training to be a body guard for her best friend, who happens to be a vampire. She’s a smart ass. She’s beautiful – and she knows it. She knows how to use her body as a deadly weapon, but she can turn around and use it, just as effectively, to flirt her way into and out of trouble. She is smart, quick witted, strong, and decisive. She is the antithesis of Bella. No wallowing. No waiting around for her boyfriend to save her. No pouting. Rose is action – planning, leaping in, solving problems and often creating more. She is sexy and deserves a love story with much more guts than that of the pair from Forks.

Enter Dimitri. No vampire…but a dark, brooding, smart and decidedly honor-driven Guardian. He is not a vampire, but his love is still forbidden. He is her teacher – 7 years older than Rose, but as quickly and deeply in love with her as any man with a heartbeat should be. After all, who could not fall for Rose? With her beauty and her attitude, she is darned near irresistible. (Yep – hint of girl crush here!)

So – Mead created a strong, powerful, feisty, and action-driven heroine. Then gave her a forbidden love to resist… (no spoilers, I promise). 

Have I figured out exactly what Mead did to achieve this? Was it dialog? Description? Conflict? Story arcs and galloping plot? In truth, I’m pretty sure it was her skillful use of all of these things, with a little storytelling magic thrown in for good measure.

I’ll keep trying to figure it out. At least while I wait for the sixth (and final) volume in the Vampire Academy series to arrive in December. In the meantime, I’ll use Rose and Dimitri as examples of characters who really do leap off of the page (and occasionally off of a bridge) and into the reader’s head with a force I’d love to imitate. Maybe there is a formula – and maybe not. But if I keep finding characters like these, I’m bound to figure out a little something about writing some of my own.

Where have you found characters who were so real, you thought maybe…just maybe…you could lure them off of the page and into the empty chair next to you at Starbucks? I’d love to know…

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Stories are Sacred. Lend an Ear.

Have you seen the news about the children who have died in the past few days? They were bright, young…their whole lives ahead of them. And victims of bullying.

I want to write something profound and thought provoking here today. Something that will make even one reader sit up and take notice – perhaps focus some energy and thought for just a moment on bullying, teen violence, suicide, homophobia and bigotry.

But I don’t know what to say.

It is such a shameful waste. A meaningless destruction of life and hope and spirit.

But even if I don’t have profound and thought-provoking words to post here today – I still want to add my voice to the outpouring of emotion and distress that has been expressed online – and I pray, in living rooms and across dinner tables—around the world.

These children had a story. Their story was their own – and precious. We should honor them and hold their stories carefully in the palms of our hands. Wrap their stories in our hearts and talk about them with others.

Stories have power. Stories can heal. Stories can change culture, and save lives.

My dear friend and writing partner talks about the importance of changing the cultural narrative and how stories can save lives here.

Ellen posted a video about these kids and the need for compassion and a change in our culture to solve this crisis here.

And a new YouTube channel has been created by Dan Savage to provide support and a forum for the stories of LBGT youth. It’s called It Gets Better.

Please. If you know any teenagers – of any color, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation – listen to their stories. Let them know they have been heard, even when it may seem like the rest of the world is shutting them out. Help them to understand that they have a story. And it is sacred.

Hold carefully one small snippet of a kid’s story – one moment from a hard day at school or realization of difference or raw, wrenching pain from the confusion that comes with growing up…If we can provide an ear to hear the story and the heart to support the storyteller, we will change the world.